Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)

It seemed like my computer was always just good enough to play the latest version of Grand Theft Auto.  When I got GTA: San Andreas, it would just barely run.  I didn’t mind so much until my computer crashed and I had to reformat.  I gave up until just recently when I got a new laptop.  With the onset of COVID-19, I decided to take it upon myself to delve into the fictionalized version of Southern California once again.

The story revolves around Carl “CJ” Johnson.  He’s returned from Liberty City for his mother’s funeral.  His siblings, Sean and Kendl, still live in Los Santos.  There is some animosity because Carl hasn’t been there.  The real problems come from the gangs and corrupt police.  Officers Tenpenny and Pulaski harass Carl.  Most gangs will attack Carl just because he’s a member of Grove Street Families.

As with previous entries into the GTA franchise, you assume the role of Carl.  There are about 100 missions for you to go through.  The first few missions deal with game play and game mechanics.  In one, you’re show how to spray over the tags of rival gangs.  Spraying over all the tags isn’t important for the main storyline, but doing all 100 tags does have its benefits.

Each set of missions comes from a character.  As you finish most of the missions, a new set will open up for you.  Each set has to be completed in order, but if you have several sets going at the same time you can alternate.  If you get frustrated with one, try another.  There’s no penalty for failing a mission unless you die or get arrested.  If that’s the case, you’ll lose your weapons and a small amount of money.

There are also side missions, such as the aforementioned tags.  There are 100 of them for you to find in Los Santos, as well as 50 pictures to take in San Fierro, 50 horseshoes in Las Venturas and 50 clams underwater scattered throughout the whole map.  Each one comes with a bonus if you complete all of them.  There are also fire trucks you can use to put out fires, police vehicles for vigilante missions and taxis for collecting fares.  Again, each has a benefit for completion.  (If you go through all twelve levels of putting out fires, you become fireproof.)

If that’s not enough, you can play pool or basketball.  There are also races for you to compete in.  And, if you like, you can even go to one of two casinos to gamble.  I have to admit that the gambling isn’t as fun as the real thing.  Not only can you not take it with you, but the rules are simplified.  There are certain bets you can’t make in the in-game roulette and a blackjack only pays as a normal win.

Most of the missions are pretty straightforward.  You may not get a lot of them on the first try, but you will learn how to do it pretty quickly.  The only exception to this is the Learning to Fly mission.  You may have come here hoping for some pointers on how to complete the third and fourth lessons, where you have to go through the coronas.  I’m sorry.  I can’t help you.

The best I can tell you is to adjust course a little bit at a time, but even that only helps a little.  If you miss a corona, it’s easier to crash and start over.  (As long as you don’t crash into the water, you just have to press space bar to restart the lesson.)  It took me months of playing on and off to finally complete them.

The good news is that Toreno will stop calling you after the third phone call.  This means that you can go and try something else.  I was able to complete all of the tags, all of the photographs and get the car dealership before completing the third lesson.  It’s going to be long and hard.  I thought of quitting several times, but I did finish them.  You just have to keep at it.

At least the play area at that point was vast.  I had the entire play area open to me, meaning I could explore everything.  There are a lot of little towns and forests you can go through.  There are a lot of weapons.  You can even get a dildo and a vibrator, although not at the same time.  (Weapons have slots and you can only have one of each type at a time.)  I do recommend getting the minigun.  That was a fun weapon.

Once I did get past the flying lessons, it was smooth sailing to the end of the game.  At that point, I was so invested that I was kind of sad that I wouldn’t be seeing the other characters again.  (Actually, that’s not entirely accurate.  I still have a few optional missions I can play.)  I don’t think I’ll ever look at a plane the same way.  I can fly them, but it’s generally easier for me to jump out and use the parachute than to land the plane unless I have to.

My stats show that I have 90 hours of game play, but that’s somewhat deceptive.  There were a few times I reloaded a game to save my weapons.  I don’t know if any time was lost.  Through dating of some girlfriends, you can keep your weapons after dying or being arrested.  Once this happens, reloading becomes more a matter of convenience.  Some mission sets are near enough to a save point that I usually just reloaded so that I didn’t have to go all the way back.

I should note that you’re given only a few save points.  You start out with the Johnson Family house, for instance.  You can buy other properties to use as a safe house, which will prove beneficial later in the game.  It gets tedious to have to travel back one of a few save points.  They do cost in-game money, but you should have plenty by the time it becomes necessary.  (If you need money, this is another reason to do the fire missions.  Those pay relatively well.)

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas ended up being a big improvement over Vice City.  Aside from the huge play area, it was a lot more complex.  You had to exercise and worry about your fitness.  You could get haircuts and tattoos.  Some of these could even be used to evade police.  At its core, it’s still Grand Theft Auto.  While the Learning to Fly mission did take its toll, I might look into Grand Theft Auto IV if I can get some extra money together.  I’d like to see what kind of progress they made with that.

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Old Guard (2020)

Immortality seems like kind of a lame superpower.  All it means is that you can’t die.  You can still feel pain.  And what happens if it doesn’t include the replacement of lost limbs?  You could have to spend the rest of your life as just a head or something?  This doesn’t even mention the loss of all your loved ones and having to keep up with society for an eternity.  Plus, what if you gain immortality when you’re 80?  There are a lot of quality-of-life issues you’d have to contend with.

Andromache has been dealing with that for approximately 6,000 years.  She leads a small band of other immortals who fight for good causes.  It’s not necessarily anything major, but they tend to help people who go on to do something important.  The latest addition to this group is Nile Freeman, a soldier serving in Afghanistan.  So, Andy has to not only find Nile and help her out, but she has to deal with a pharmaceutical CEO names Steven Merrick.

Merrick wants to find the immortals and study them.  If he could figure out where the immortality comes from, he could sell it and make a fortune, as if he weren’t rich enough.  It would sound pretty easy, as the immortals don’t have to fear death.  However, nothing lasts forever.  And it’s not really that simple.

It’s pretty obvious that Netflix is trying to set up a franchise here.  The movie doesn’t go into too much detail about where the immortals came from.  It’s not stated that the powers are genetic or divine.  It’s also implied that maybe six or so have it at any given time.  It comes across a lot like Highlander.  Granted, a lot of the major details are different.  These immortals only fight for good and aren’t compelled to battle each other.  (It’s not even clear what effect beheading would even have.)

The ending also leaves open the possibility of another movie or even a TV series.  It might be interesting to see what that looks like, but I’m hoping that any future projects would look better than this.  The writing is a little flat and it’s not particularly fast-paced.  This wouldn’t be so bad if it were setting something up.  Andy would be on her way out and Nile would be serving as the audience’s surrogate.

A TV show could make sense.  Each episode could deal with some moral issue while at the same time building the mythology.  I would hope that Merrick wouldn’t come back, though.  He was a one-dimensional villain.  He seemed like a stock Scooby-Doo villain in some regards.  There was no dying grandmother.  He didn’t seem concerned by bettering humanity.  He was purely motivated by profit.  But, hey…Who wants to live forever, anyway?

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Alien Warfare (2019)

Fast car chases and loud explosions are a common sight in modern movies.  You know it’s Hollywood and they’re going to make it loud and fast, but you go anyway.  Sometimes, you want to mix it up.  You go for something independent.  It’s not flashy or anything.  Sometimes it turns out to be decent.  (Not usually, but sometimes.)  At the very least, you come to realize why these things are done.  It’s cliché, but at least they keep your attention.

Alien Warfare is a pretty basic movie.  There’s nothing too extravagant about it.  A team of Navy SEALs is sent to a foreign research facility to retrieve an item.  They’re not told what it is.  They’ll know it when they see it, though.  All they know is that everyone in the building was killed at once.  So, off they go to the remote site, basically not knowing anything about the mission except that they have to find and retrieve something.

When they get there, they find Isabella.  She’s a scientist who was involved with the project.  She survived by being in a Faraday cage.  She’s able to grant the team access to the room where the item is stored.  The only distinguishing feature, aside from being black and angular, is that it projects some weird alien language.

That’s when the aliens show up.  I should warn you now that the name Alien Warfare is misleading.  We only get to see one alien for a few seconds at the end of the movie.  The other four aliens are in suits the entire time, and can also become invisible.  There’s also no real warfare.  Sure, the SEAL team shoots at them a few times, but I wouldn’t call it warfare.

Eventually, the SEALs figure out what the object is.  This allows them to figure out what the aliens want.  The SEALs allow the aliens to take the object away, allowing everyone to go home in peace.

The movie seems almost like a class project.  It’s not even TV pilot material.  It’s like someone was given access to two buildings and had to write the script around that.  We never really find out much about the aliens.  For instance, it seems like the scientists had access to the pot for a long time.  The only explanation as to why the aliens took so long to retrieve it is that there was electrical interference.  But, they do eventually figure out where their missing thing is.

The alien design is so minimal that it was easier to hide them inside suits.  They’re shaped a lot like we are, which the humans think is natural.  I mean, why would intelligent life develop any other way?  Right?  I mean, it’s not like other planets would have other conditions and whatnot.  I get that human actors are playing the aliens, but it’s not like we didn’t have CGI last year.  It’s more that the production had to work within its limits and it shows.

There’s very little in the way of character development, for that matter.  The old leader was replaced by his brother.  All we know is that the team botched a mission and it was the old leader’s fault.  The rest of the team keeps looking to the old leader for guidance.  The only other thing we know about any member of the team is that Jonesy is obsessed with smoothies.  He even wants to take a blender back with him.

It’s like that old joke where a guy eats a meal in a restaurant.  The waiter asks how the meal was, to which he replies that he only has two complaints:  Not only was the food horrible, but there wasn’t enough of it.


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Dark (Season 3)

I remember when I was in high school; a normal season of American TV would consist of 20 to 30 episodes.  Now, it seems that a season might run 8 or ten episodes.  Granted, I have access to a lot of European series.  A run of 20 episodes would seem too much for one stretch.  However, I’ve noticed it with Star Trek: Picard and Stranger Things.  Dark’s entire three-season run of 26 episodes would be one season for a show like Star Trek: The Next Generation.

For those who haven’t seen the first or second seasons, Dark is a German series.  It centers on a small, fictional town named Winden.  There seems to be a bit of a temporal knot.  People can access points in the city’s history at 33-year intervals through a tunnel.  There’s also a machine that seems to allow for shorter jumps.

At the end of the second season, we find out that there’s an alternate dimension.  One of the key factors in the city’s history is a boy that not only goes missing, but becomes displaced in time.  There are a few differences that add up to big changes.

The season deals with going back and forth between the two universes and trying to undo the entire thing, which requires going to a third, main universe.  If you think this is confusing, you’re right.  It’s often difficult to keep track of who belongs in which universe.  This is even true in cases where there’s only one version of a character.  Sometimes, it seems like there should be three or four versions of a character.  This is because they’re bouncing around in time like ping pong balls, covering a span from 1888 to 2053.  (It’s hard enough keeping track of the family trees.  Now this?)

There is a religious/spiritual influence, with one character being named Noah.  The two characters believed to have started the two universes are Adam and Eva, each belonging to a different universe.  It’s also difficult to tell where everything begins.  (Beginnings are endings; endings are beginnings and all that.)

As with the first two seasons, lies factor in to the narrative.  This added to my confusion a little.  Characters realize that they have to be manipulated into maintaining the correct order of events.  Is there even really a way out?  Is there free will enough to end it all and prevent all this suffering or are the characters fated to go around and around for infinity?

This is not a bright and cheery series.  There’s a missing child, time travel, dimensional travel and plenty of secrets to go around.  There’s also the apocalypse hanging over everyone’s head and the knowledge that averting doomsday means that a good chunk of the population might get erased from existence.  Oh, and the fate of three universes hinges on a car accident.  Being erased from existence might be a blessing.

If this hasn’t dissuaded you from watching it, there is a satisfying ending at the all of it.  There is a nice, even pace to the series, even if it is a bit slow.  One good thing about our modern technology is that you could, and probably should, watch them all in one binge.  Don’t do it halfway and take a break.  Watch the entire thing over the course of a week or two, which will probably make it easier to keep track of.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

My Spy (2020)

There are a lot of deep, meaningful movies out there.  You have Life of Pi.  Limitless and The Adjustment Bureau come to mind.  You might even include Inception on the list.  These are movies that give you something new to think about.  They may not be perfect, but they’re intended for an audience who doesn’t mind a complicated plot.

Then, you have Hallmark movies.  They tend to follow a similar plot.  Someone has to go back to a small town where they meet someone and fall in love.  They eventually realize what’s important.  They hit all the marks and you can generally predict what’s going to happen.

My Spy tends towards the Hallmark movies.  I don’t think anyone is going to be surprised by this movie.  In fact, I hesitate to include a trailer because that would give away a lot of the plot.

Take JJ.  He’s a former member of Special Forces.  He’s really good with explosives.  He’s not so good with other people.  When he goes to work for the CIA, he botches his first mission.  Yes, he stopped some bad guys, but the idea was to use those bad guys to catch the even worse guys they were working for.

He’s given one more mission to redeem himself.  He’s partnered with Bobbi, a tech expert, and sent to Chicago to watch Kate and her daughter, Sophie.  Kate’s husband, Victor, was killed by his brother, David.  The hope is that David will contact Kate, who doesn’t realize that she has some important files.

So, JJ and Bobbi set up some cameras in Kate’s apartment.  And it doesn’t take long for Sophie to figure out where they are.  Once she has a camera, she’s able to triangulate where JJ and Bobbi are.  Armed with only her cell phone, she’s able to blackmail JJ into being her friend.

If you’ve ever seen a Hallmark movie, you know that JJ has a lot of learning to do.  He gets good enough that he can survive a few dates with Kate, who is still clueless about who JJ really is.  Kate does eventually figure it out and isn’t too happy about the lie.  Sophie makes friends at her new school because of her association with JJ.  When JJ’s boss discovers what’s going on, JJ and Bobbi are fired.  In the end, everyone is where they want to be.

I have to wonder what actual CIA agents would think of this movie.  First, I don’t think the CIA generally operates on America soil.  Something like this would probably be handled by the FBI.  Honestly, there’s no reason why it couldn’t have been the FBI.  It would have been just as easy to have the opening scene take place somewhere like Detroit.  It wouldn’t even have to be nuclear weapons.

Then, there’s the issue of JJ and Bobbi setting up in the same building as Kate and Sophie.  The same building?  Really?  I think they were on the same floor, even.  Wouldn’t that increase the odds of Kate or Sophie getting to know them?  I get that they would have to be close for the Wi-Fi cameras to work, but there has to be a way around that.  Like, hook it up to a phone line or something.  There has to be an industrial-grade transmitter that they could buy.

I also have to say that Dave Bautista is the weakest link, acting-wise.  He looks the part, but he doesn’t really own the part.  He doesn’t make you think he’s the only one that could play the role of JJ.  It’s a shame because I’ve liked him in other roles.  Chloe Coleman, for instance, plays Sophie to the point that I honestly believe Sophie would make a better CIA agent than JJ.

When I first heard of this movie, I figured it would be a lot like Léon: The Professional, and I wasn’t wrong.  It was more like Léon meets Kindergarten Cop.  It’s one of those overly generic feel-good movies that has a few mild laughs, some gratuitous explosions and a happy-enough ending that no one will really dislike it.  It’s not great, but there are worse movies you could be forced to sit through.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Supergirl (1984)

There were a few times in television and movies where something seemed inexplicable.  It wasn’t until years later that something came along that put things in perspective.  It always seemed odd to me that in Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Best of Both Worlds, only Captain Picard was assimilated.  Then, it came out that Patrick Stewart had thrown out the idea of not coming back for the fourth season.  Picard’s assimilation offered a way out, if necessary.  I’m not sure how true it is, but it made sense.

Supergirl was an interesting movie, but it provided me with a lot of similar questions.  It starts in Argo City.  Argo City survived the destruction of Krypton by hiding in some sort of fold in space.  It’s powered by a small orb called the Omegahedron.  It’s not a toy, but Kara Zor-El is allowed to play with it.  After a few minutes, it gets blown out into space and lands on Earth.

The man who lent it to her is sent to the Phantom Zone for all of eternity.  Kara chases after it, hoping to get it back.  If she doesn’t, the entire population of Argo City will die.  You’d think with something so important, it would be better protected.  For that matter, you’d think the city walls would be made of something stronger.  Then again, we wouldn’t have a movie.

When Kara lands on Earth, she happens to land near where the Omegahedron is, but not close enough to actually get it.  Instead, Selena finds it.  She’s a witch that’s looking for an easy way to take over the world.  She dumps the warlock Nigel and goes about plotting world domination.

Again, this Omegahedron thingy is really important.  Kara is trying to find this to save her city.  To her advantage, she’s instantly given the same powers as her cousin, Superman.  In fact, she miraculously has a Supergirl outfit on once she’s on Earth.  Rather than set out to look for the orb, she flies around and takes a look at the planet.  It’s not clear where Argo City is in relationship to Earth.  She could have been travelling for five minutes or two months.  Either way, she has no time to lose.

Once she’s done flying, she sets herself up at an all-girls boarding school.  She calls herself Linda Lee, saying she’s Clark Kent’s cousin, and is roomed with Lois Lane’s sister, Lucy.  This baffles me.  She can forge a document in seconds.  Why not set herself up with a house?  Why bother with classes and whatnot?  I get that she’s young, but there has to be another option here.  Given a choice, I’d pick the one that doesn’t involve doing homework or taking tests.

A whole bunch of stuff happens, giving Selena the chance to figure out how the orb works.  Kara makes exactly zero effort to find it until it’s too late and Selena has already taken over a small town.  Kara is banished to the Phantom Zone, herself, but escapes.  The final battle ensues and everything is put right again.

The entire movie stinks of a project that someone had to make.  It’s like an executive wanted a superhero movie with a female hero and passed it off to a team of people that didn’t think it was a good idea.  In fact, the movie looks like it may have been written more as a comedy, but was played more as a drama.

Even the writing has bare-minimum effort all over it.  Why does a city have only one power source?  You’d think they’d have a second one as a backup.  This wouldn’t even be a plot killer.  Kara could still have to retrieve it.  Do you really want it falling into the hands of someone like Selena?

Then, there’s the whole issue of witches and warlocks.  Really?  That’s the best you could come up with?  I don’t know if this idea ever showed up in the comics, but I think I would have come up with a better adversary.  You’re already doing a gender-swapped story.  Why not just have a female evil genius, much like Lex Luthor.

There’s a lot about the movie that doesn’t look right.  For a movie where a city’s population is on the line, there’s no sense of urgency.  The flying sequences are way too long.  Superman gets a cameo by way of a poster.  The only crossover is Jimmy Olsen.  I suspect that having one character cross over was a way of not sinking the Superman franchise if this movie tanked, which may have been a good idea.  If you can’t find a copy of this movie to watch, don’t worry about it.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 14 (Wolf in the Fold)

There were times that Star Trek could be progressive.  It dealt with issues such as race and war.  It even had a woman of color as a bridge officer.  Unfortunately, she never got to command a ship during the show’s three-year run.  There were times that the show didn’t go as far as it could have.

Then, there were times that they dropped the ball entirely.  I understand that the times were different, but some things make me tilt my head and ask what I just watched.

Kirk, McCoy and Scotty seem to be having a good time on shore leave.  They’re watching women do some sort of belly dance.  Scotty leaves with Kara, one of the dancers.  While Kirk and McCoy are walking around the town, they hear a scream.  Scotty is found standing over hear dead body, weapon in hand.

We’ve all seen enough Matlock and Murder She Wrote to know Scotty didn’t do it.  The authorities detain him anyway.  So, it’s up to Kirk and McCoy to prove him innocent, which is no easy task.  They even have someone beam down to run a test on Scotty.  Of course, Scotty is sent to a room with her where she can mysteriously wind up dead.

So, another young lady is brought in to interrogate Scotty.  You might think that she would wind up sequestered in a room with Scotty and wind up dead.  You’d be wrong.  This time, the lights go out, but there are other people in the room when she dies.

This is where it goes off the rails.  It wasn’t Scotty, after all.  It was some sort of malevolent force that was once known on Earth as Jack the Ripper.  This force has been inhabiting men for the purpose of killing women.  And all this time Kirk and McCoy thought Scotty had a problem with women.

I wish I was kidding on that one.  I’m not.  Apparently, a female engineer gave Scotty a bump on the head.  Now, he’s a full-blown misogynist.  It kind of makes you wonder what passed for progress back then.

While we’re on the subject, why leave Scotty alone with women?  If they’ve noticed the pattern, wouldn’t it make sense to assign a security guard to Scotty?  Even if he didn’t do it, it’s an awful coincidence.  (I know that it would ruin the surprise to have a security guard report back, but given the show’s track record with security officers, they have an easy out.)

On top of all this, the episode ends with the murder of an individual.  To get rid of the entity, they beam the person, with the entity inside, out into space.  No mention is made of the fact that they had to kill an innocent person.  There’s no debate or remorse or anything.  They just do it.

It’s really hard to think of this as a good episode.  It’s not particularly scary or tense by today’s standards.  I think that it would have been a totally different episode had it been written for one of the modern series.  Come to think of it, I don’t think any of the spin-offs ever reused the plot.  This is saying something, given that there were quite a number of recycled plots.  If you’re looking to watch all of the Star Trek episodes, this is one you’re just going to have to sit through.


Thursday, July 02, 2020

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 13 (Obsession)

I’ve come to realize that Star Trek had a lot of contrivances that the subsequent series didn’t have.  For instance, The Enterprise encountered a lot of one-of-a-kind creatures.  There were also a lot of emergencies that could have easily been handled by some other means.  Add to this reused plot devices and you have an episode of Star Trek.

In Obsession, The Enterprise is due to pick up some perishable medical supplies from the USS Yorktown.  For some reason, they’re doing a planetary survey first.  On that planet is a gaseous life form that can drain a person of hemoglobin.  Kirk recognizes this as the same creature that killed half the crew of the USS Farragut, Kirk’s first assignment out of Starfleet Academy.  Kirk is determined to kill the thing before it manages to spawn thousands more like itself.

Ok, so how do they know that there’s one of this thing?  If it goes back to its home planet to reproduce, it’s conceivable that there are thousands or even millions of these cloud creatures draining the hemoglobin out of unsuspecting people.  For that matter, how does it survive like that?  There are plenty of life forms that don’t have iron-based blood.  The Enterprise’s first officer is one such life form.

So, Kirk puts off meeting with The Yorktown.  Why can’t the Yorktown deliver the supplies if it’s so important?  Why schedule two ships to meet up in the first place?  It’s to give Kirk a deadline.  That’s why.

The entire episode seems built around Kirk getting revenge.  You’d think at least one other Starfleet officer would have the same concerns.  Half of the crew of The Farragut survived.  Isn’t there someone Kirk could talk to who would understand?  I’d think Kirk would call one of the surviving crewmates or the relatives of the fallen crewmates to let them know what happened.  Even a passing comment in a later episode would have been nice.